Fewer Cambria students transferring out for high school as district adds new classes

Where did the summer go? School bells will send students in the Coast Unified School District scurrying to classes starting Wednesday, Aug. 21, and motorists in school zones will have to be on high alert, watching for distracted and darting young people.

Samuel Shalhoub, president of the district’s Board of Trustees, said in an email interview Tuesday, Aug. 13, that this year, “I sense we will see gains in student achievement as a result of finally implementing an AVID program and maintaining support for our youngest English learners. Dual-credit enrollment at the high school will continue to give our graduates an advantage toward earning their baccalaureate. The board is also exploring options for classes and programs that will help students apply for trade or craft work if they elect not to attend college after graduation.”

For instance, more agricultural classes will be offered in the upper grades this year.

Transfer numbers down

Cambria’s Santa Lucia Middle School seems to have turned around its previous trend of having quite a few students transfer out into other districts at the end of their eighth-grade year, according to preliminary enrollment figures for the 2019-20 school year.

However, students can enroll at any time at any of the district campuses, including between now and the start of the school year.

According to Kyle Martin, middle school principal and assistant superintendent of Coast Unified School District, as of Tuesday, Aug. 13, none of Coast Union High School’s incoming students from Santa Lucia had requested an interdistrict transfer to such high schools as Morro Bay, Mission Prep or other campuses.

08-13-19 resource teacher sherry aguilar.jpg
Sherry Aguilar, resource specialist for Santa Lucia Middle School in Cambria, sorts through old maps (including a 1990 one of Russia) as she preps her classroom for the 2019-20 school year, which starts Wednesday, Aug. 21. She said she may keep that one anyway, because it includes such a good history of the country. Kathe Tanner ktanner@thetribunenews.com

Martin said that, “in the past, we’ve had a fair number of students complete grade 8 here and then transfer to another district,” a figure he estimated to have been as high as about 17 percent.

At Coast high school, while a few students did request transfers this year for a variety of reasons, Principal Scott Ferguson said that, so far, it’s a pretty even exchange between the small number of students wanting to attend school elsewhere and those from other areas — such as Paso Robles, Atascadero, Morro Bay and Big Sur — who want to go to Coast.

As of Monday, Aug. 12, according to staffers, 258 students were enrolled at Cambria Grammar School, 117 at Santa Lucia and 190 at Coast High. Enrollment figures weren’t yet available for Leffingwell High School, according to staff.

New class offerings

For the first time, Santa Lucia is offering an “introduction to agriculture” class and, as an extracurricular activity, FFA. Coast High has added an ag chemistry-and-soils class, which counts as a physical science class.

The high school also has a new robotics class, and Ferguson and instructor Ayen Johnson, confident of their students’ technological capabilities, have already signed them up for a Cal Poly robotics competition.

Ferguson said the high school also added a psychology course available to juniors and seniors, which will include “a lot of self-analysis and self-awareness, very much a discussion class,” that will also encompass societal changes, pressures and problems.

Also added at Coast High were extra levels in existing courses, “expanding some of what we already have,” Ferguson said, such as ag mechanics 2 or 3, or audio production 2, so students can take those subjects in multiple years, becoming class and project leaders.

Middle school registrar Courtney Hartzell said Santa Lucia has added the AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination).

According to www2.ed.gov/pubs/ToolsforSchools/avid.html, the AVID approach “places previously underachieving students in the same college preparation academic program as high-achieving students. AVID features a rigorous academic elective course with a sequential curriculum for grades 7 through 12 that focuses on writing, inquiry, and collaboration as methodologies to accelerate student progress.”

Santa Lucia’s daily class schedule now includes eight periods to better coordinate with the high school’s timetable. Hartzell said that makes it easier for teachers who have classes in both schools.

She said new librarian Leslie Roper (replacing retiree Suzanne Kennedy) and a new English-as-a-second-language aide were added, and Santa Lucia is still seeking a resource aide.

Registrar Lori Nunez said the grammar school added fourth-grade teacher Megan Drabinski, who taught last year in Goleta. That frees up Jinna Mueller to be the physical education teacher that the school didn’t have last year, because Mueller was teaching fourth grade.

Shalhoub concluded that he expects “to see morale improve across the district” this year, especially from “teachers who have better schedules and site placement.”

He said he believes the district “is poised to become a bright star in the constellation of public schools available to our families in this county. Sure, we are a little bit isolated, but we have an excellent environment, wonderful teachers and staff and a generous community that continues to give our students all of the opportunity they need to be successful in life.”

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Kathe Tanner has been writing about the people and places of SLO County’s North Coast since 1981, first as a columnist and then also as a reporter. Her career has included stints as a bakery owner, public relations director, radio host, trail guide and jewelry designer She has been a resident of Cambria for more than four decades, and if it’s happening in town, Kathe knows about it.